NA LCS Spring Split Preview
Recently many have come forward with their rankings of teams for the upcoming split in North America. While 1-10 rankings may be easy to understand and fun to compare, they really don’t capture the differences between two teams. For example a team that is ranked 4th might be just about as good as the 5th ranked team but after the 5th there is a significant drop off. I will be providing my criteria for each tier and where I believe that teams fit in their respective tiers. Note that the first team I list in each tier I believe is slightly better than the rest of their tier but the gap between the team above them was larger than the gap between the team below. Also this is not an official list that represents the views of the Goldper10 website, it is my own personal list.
For a team to be included in tier 1 they must meet several criteria. First the team must have a strong base level of individual skill. If a team is solid all around and has good map play they can succeed in North America but not internationally so I won’t be including any teams with an obvious dearth of individual talent. Second, the team must have an appropriate level of infrastructure. Even talented teams can sometimes struggle without proper coaching or analysis especially as map play and vision continue to change with the new season. Finally the team must have a certain degree of experience that proves that they can play at an lcs level.
The teams: TSM, IMT, NRG
TSM had an explosive offseason signing top level talent in the voids left by 4 players leaving the team. On paper the individual skill of every player on this team is up there with the best in the region. The most important new piece of the line-up however is former FNATIC support Yellowstar. With perhaps the most illustrious career of any Western League of Legends player Yellowstar was known for his smart strategical support play and intelligent shot calling. This addresses one of the primary problems that TSM has had with Bjergsen having to handle the mechanical demands of a mid laner and the strategic oversight of a primary shot caller. With Yellowstar likely taking over shotcalling duties Bjergsen will be able to focus on his dominant laning style and mechanical outplays.
TSM should by all means win this split if they can pull together as a cohesive unit. However there is potential for clashes of personalities with Bjergsen, Doublelift and Svenskeren all having reputations for being vocal players with strong opinions. Yellowstar and a retooled coaching staff should be able to mitigate these issues though. Another potential issue is how farm will be distributed in the new TSM. Svenskeren favors carry type junglers, Bjergsen has been used to an inordinate amount of resources being provided for him and Doublelift also had a very high gold percentage on CLG last split. At IEM San Jose we saw the first possible solution to this problem with Bjergsen playing a more supportive mid lane style to compliment Doublelift’s hypercarries.
If you want a team with upside and a real chance of international success, look no further than TSM.
One of the most hyped newcomers to the NALCS is Team Immortals. After purchasing their spot from Team 8, Immortals built a strong roster with 3 North American talents in Pobelter, Adrian and Wildturtle and the formidable jungle top lane duo of Huni and Reignover. This roster has a lot of upside with Huni bringing a high skill ceiling and a carry top lane style with his already strongly established synergy with Reignover. If Wildturtle can recover his form from Season 3 and late Season 4 he can be a very big threat on the other side of the map. Adrian was a consistent performer on Team Impulse who was perhaps the best support in North America in the Summer Split. His versatility is a big boon for a team who might have problems with thin champion pools in other roles. Finally Pobelter in the mid lane. Pobelter is one of the only North American mids in the LCS this split but he has shown that he can perform at a very high level domestically in 2015. He adopted a supportive style on CLG with Darshan and Doublelift as the main carries, but his true strength is in his teamfighting.
The synergy of this team on paper is very solid as Pobelter is very good on champions like Viktor and Lulu and doesn’t need much jungle pressure while Huni and Wildturtle will likely be the recipients of more jungle ganks. The main strengths of this roster are in their international experience with all but one player attending Worlds the past year and their teamfighting, where Pobelter, WildTurtle and Adrian excel. However, they are not without significant question marks. The consistency of both WildTurtle and Huni is questionable at best and early games could prove to be an issue. With Wildturtle being a weak laner, Adrian being fairly defensive early on and Pobelter tending towards safer mid lane picks it is quite possible that other teams will be able to focus and shut down Huni with constant jungle pressure. Their coach, Dylan Falco is known for being a smart strategic coach with strong knowledge of lane swaps and early game strategy.
Immortals is another roster with a lot of upside on paper but whether or not they will live up to the hype is yet to be seen.
NRG is another new addition to the NA LCS taking over their spot from Team Coast. With a distinct Korean flair to their line up with 4 of the 5 players of Korean descent in GBM, Altec, Impact and KonKwon. The last member, Moon is an impressive jungle talent from the North American challenger scene. NRG looks to be a very serious franchise with strong financial backing and a large support staff.
Their solo laners are known for their consistency with Impact being the most steady of all the North American top laners in Season 5 and GBM who made his name with his spectacular Orianna play and other safer mid lane champions in season 5. Altec was one of the best Ad carries in North America in the summer split of 2015 consistently putting up monstrous damage numbers even as other members of his team (save Hauntzer) failed to produce. Moon has been a favorite of many who closely followed the Challenger scene as he showed a lot of potential as an NA talent who wouldn’t use an import slot. The potential weak point of the roster seems to be Konkwon, the former Team Coast support. However he showed a decent champion pool in the Challenger scene and has a phenomenal infrastructure to back him up so Konkwon is definitely a player who could improve a lot this year. Impact is also the only player on this roster who has played internationally and it has been two years since he has.
Overall, NRG may not have as high of a skill cap as other NA LCS teams but their strong analysis and coaching staff headlined by strategic coach Hermit, formerly of Origen and History Teacher, former Team 8 coach and strong consistent laners should make them a formidable opponent in NA and in international competition.
Teams that are still possible contenders for top 3 positions but have significantly higher risk associated with them and teams who just don’t have the skill ceiling necessary to compete internationally makeup tier 2. These are not bad teams but they simply are likely to have trouble competing with the heightened level of play that is expected in the NA LCS this split with the influx of new talent in the region.
The teams: C9, CLG
Cloud 9 is fresh off their Cinderella run to the World championships in which they reverse swept their way through the gauntlet and came out 3-0 in the first week of Worlds. The core of that same roster remains with Sneaky and Incarnati0n being two of the best players at their respective positions in NA. The biggest changes from last split are the additions of Rush in the jungle role and the move of Hai to support where he is likely to split time with BunnyFufu. Cloud9 has loads of potential so long as they can cover up their major weakness with Balls in the top lane.
Balls dropped off massively in terms of mechanics in 2015 and only showed proficiency with Maokai, Shen and Rumble. With Maokai looking like a weak pick going into the Spring split Balls could be target banned and camped as the weakest link in an otherwise formidable line up. Rush brings another carry threat from the jungle position and should help Cloud 9’s generally poor early game with his aggressive style of play. For a line-up with so much talent, they could have a very disappointing season if the meta continues to revolve around a top lane carry style similar to the World Championships.
Don’t let this 2nd tier placement fool you though, if Cloud 9 realizes their full potential they could rival TSM.
CLG had to do a bit of a rebuilding this offseason with AD Carry Doublelift and mid laner Pobelter being removed from the team following a disappointing Worlds run which ended with a loss to CBLOL’s Pain Gaming. Stixxay and Huhi will be replacing them in hopes that using talent from inside the organization will trump importing talent from other regions.
The core of CLG now is likely to be Darshan on split push champions while the rest of the team follows Aphromoo’s shotcalling. Stixxay performed pretty well at IEM San Jose but Huhi had a questionable performance. CLG will likely be a cohesive team as their jungler and support remained from last split and their shotcalling should go largely unchanged (if not improved thanks to Doublelift not doing any of his own.)
It’s quite possible for CLG to be leading the league in the first half of spring due to their experience and the amount of time they have spent together. However once more talented rosters begin to come together it is likely that CLG will be outclassed.
The teams: TL, RNG, DIG, EFX
These teams quite simply don’t have a strong chance at being a contender for first place. It is possible for them to finish top 4 and beat the teams above them but they either don’t have the potential to play at as high of a level as the higher teams or they won’t consistently beat the teams around and below them and therefore won’t be in contention.
Team Liquid was able to finally finish first in the regular season in summer… only to lose in the playoffs and then again in the bracket qualifier for Worlds. With Quas departing from the team Lourlo will be the new top laner. Formerly of CLG Black, he has a pretty solid champion pool but it is unknown whether he will be able to perform on the LCS stage. Fenix, IwillDominate and Piglet are all returning and Smoothie, formerly of TDK will be joining Piglet in the botlane. Smoothie is a good engage support player and showed a lot of improvement over his first split in LCS so he could be a breakout star this year. Liquid tends to have strong early games but often fail to perform in teamfight, with sloppy engages being commonplace in their late games.
If Team Liquid can improve their teamfighting and late game shot calling then they can outperform several of the teams above them but as of now they don’t seem to have the ability to contend for a title.
The Renegades are the only team that qualified from challenger this split that remained mostly intact. With mid lane legend Alex Ich leading them, Renegades tore through the Challenger series eventually defeating Team Coast 3-2 in the final.
This team has a mix of experience and fresh talent with long time players Crumbz and Alex Ich and newer players Dreamcatcher (Formerly Remilia) and RF Legendary. Alex Ich is known for his innovative style in the mid lane but his mechanics have declined since his old days with Moscow 5. Crumbzz is an intelligent jungler who has a good sense of the map and doesn’t make many mistakes. RF Legendary is a potential weak point for the roster as his champion pool has come into question and he struggled at times in the challenger series. Dreamcatcher is known for her phenomenal Thresh play, drawing respect bans consistently in the Challenger series. Outside of Thresh she also has shown proficiency on Braum and Morgana. Oh and their AD Carry Freeze is one of the best in the west coming off of a split where he was truely 1v9ing on Copenhagen Wolves and he was really the only reason they ever won games. Dreamcatcher’s aggressive champion pool mixed with Freeze’s affinity for champions like Draven means that this bot lane could be a force to be reckoned with.
Coming out of Challenger scene look for Renegades to be a sleeper pick to do well in their first split.
Another split of NA LCS means another split of Kiwikid in the botlane for DIG. This year Dignitas brought in some European talent in top laner SmittyJ and Kirei and former Team Impulse AD Carry Apollo to Kiwikid and Shiptur. On paper this team looks fairly weak compared to the rest of NA. SmittyJ was unimpressive at IEM Cologne and Shiptur and Apollo were never known as aggressive laners so it begs the question, Where is the early game pressure going to be applied? The bright spot of this lineup is Kirei, the European jungler who dominated at IEM and was all over the map in the early game making early plays. But whether or not he will have a lane to gank for will be something to look out for.
Overall it seems like this team can go about as far as Kirei can take them but without playmakers in his lanes it seems bleak for Dignitas.
Team Echo Fox:
The last newcomer to LCS is Echo Fox. Former NBA star Rick Fox purchased Gravity’s spot and rebranded to Echo Fox.
The team dynamic of Ekko Fox will likely be focused around Froggen, the enigmatic European mid laner known for his precise laning style where he excels at finding small advantages in trades and forcing his opponents to recall. Joining him are less prominent names in Hard, Baby, Keithmcbrief and KFO. Keith, Hard and Baby have all been around the North American Challenger scene and Keith had a Mcbrief stint in the LCS with Liquid and TSM. However the real wild card here is KFO. KFO is a popular Korean streamer who has been up to rank 40 on the Korean challenger ladder playing mostly top lane. One positive is that Keith has played Ad carry for a resource hungry mid laner before in Bjergsen so it shouldn’t be an issue with team dynamic to play with Froggen.
EFX is another team with upside but they also have quite a few unknowns. How will Baby and Hard perform on the LCS stage? How will KFO adapt to an English speaking team? Will Froggen finally have the team around him he needs to have domestic success once more? The answers to these questions will determine Echo Fox’s success this split.
Tier Impulse: Yes they get their own tier
Poor TIP. From losing XiaoWeiXiao in the summer split to losing the other 4 starting members to other teams Team Impulse really didn’t have much going for them by the time they announced their roster. The only possible bright spot on this team is likely their bot lane with Gate and Dontmashme being the only players with LCS experience. Their new jungler Proxcin has played professionally in Japan but hasn’t played in a competitive match since July. Finishing out the roster are two solo queue talents from Korea and North America, Pirene in the mid lane and Feng in the top lane. It is really unlikely that this Team Impulse stays in the LCS for another split as they simply are worse overall even if Mash and Gate can put up average performances consistently.
I’m open for discussion on these positions but these are the correct placements in my opinion. If you want to talk about NA this coming season you can reach me at @maseratolol on Twitter.